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The Sheepdogs’ Ryan Gullen- Interview

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The Sheepdogs, From Left: Sam Corbett, Ryan Gullen, Ewan Currie, Leot Hanson

 

Learn and Burn was basically two microphones in a house in Saskatoon. That’s all we could afford to do at the time.”

Ryan Gullen, bassist and vocalist for Saskatchewan rock outfit The Sheepdogs, highlights just how far the band has come since its’ humble founding about seven years ago.

The quartet’s 2012 self-titled full-length album was a slightly different affair. Produced by Black Keys drummer and producer Pat Carney, the two and a half week venture in the studio, although complete with a few more bells and whistles, was done with much the same attitude as each of its’ predecessors.

“If people are into it, they’re into it, and if not… we [don’t] want to change our sound to become more successful,” he said. “We have a certain integrity to us.”

With Carney’s hand offering some exclusive help, the band created an album oozing with rock sweetness, and groovy, fuzzy blues overtones.

“A big part of what [Carney] brought to it is something that their band is obviously big on, which is looking at taking a song and finding the best parts, and trimming the fat of the rock ‘n roll song, and finding the juiciest parts just to bring it all together.

“We have a tendency to draw things out and jam, but he kind of reined us in. He’s really intuitive when it comes to that kind of stuff, and so obviously that was a benefit to us.”

The countless legions of rock, blues, and funk names you could stick on The Sheepdogs are a boon to their work.

“Obviously we are very rooted in older sensibilities when it comes to rock ‘n roll music. I think the challenge that sets us aside from a fair amount of modern rock artists is we try to look back at not just one band or one era, but we try to listen to all sorts of different music, and take cues from that.

“I think a lot of modern radio rock bands look either within only the current state of music or not very far back, like to Nirvana, and I think it’s really important as a musician to be well-versed not only in just a very specific type of music, but also look farther back and look for what makes songs good, and what turns you on as a music listener.”

But despite the fresh tunes the guys pump out, they’re not afraid to do more than just tip their hats to the guitar-slingers who cut down the overgrowth years ago.

“I think it’s a big honour,” responded Gullen on constantly being likened to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Zeppelin. “Every band has an influence, every band is getting their ideas somewhere. I don’t think we’re ashamed of where our influences lie. Every band no matter what is going to get a comparison.”

The classic rock revivalists have been tending an ever-growing fire since 2011 found them smack-dab in the very spot every rock artist dreams of being: on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

“It’s definitely more pressure put on us, and put a lot of focus on us, but nothing that we weren’t necessarily used to,” Gullen explained. “We’ve been playing as a band for a long time before that, like seven years or something.”

The cover boys haven’t had much time to breathe since the big break. Rather than taking a rest after the much-deserved hit, they did the opposite.

“We’ve basically been on the road since 2010, so it’s been a pretty long haul,” Gullen said.

“We want to be out playing for as many people and as many opportunities as we can, and kind of striking while the iron’s hot, but at the same time, you know we don’t want to burn ourselves out.”

And therein lies the trouble; a fire so hot it threatens to destroy that which feeds it. But Gullen says that learning “the balance between working really hard and then also having time for ourselves” was one that was a necessity.

“Just being conscious of what’s within our means, and what we want to do in order to maintain a professionalism, so that’s probably the one big thing that we’ve learned over time that came along with [the past two years],” he said.

The four-piece toured extensively across North America and Europe during the summer festival season, which Gullen says is prime for “people to have a good time and just let their freak flag fly,” and will return to Germany and Spain this fall after an interesting stopover.

“We actually played a festival a couple months ago in Spain, it’s kind of weird, where we played like a second stage after The Smashing Pumpkins,” he laughed. “Having never played in Spain ever before, we had about 10,000 people at our show, it was pretty crazy.

“I think Spain personally is one of my favourite countries I’ve ever been to, so I’m pretty excited to spend some extra time there.”


Before they head overseas, the band will be playing in the capital city at Ottawa Folk Festival, on Saturday, September 7. Gullen has a bone to pick with whoever calls it the “Most Boring City in Canada”.

“Ottawa has always been really good to us,” he explained. “I think being that it’s more of a political climate in Ottawa, and it seems like everyone is either working for the government or a lobbyist or something, it doesn’t have that vibe at all.”

“I would completely disagree with anyone saying there isn’t a good music scene there. It’s probably one of the more appreciate music scenes in Canada.”

 

The Sheepdogs play at 7:00 PM on Saturday at Folk Fest, which is taking place at Hog’s Back Park.

-Luke Ottenhof


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